Tuesday 13 November 2018, 03:36 AM
ROLE OF HELICOPTERS IN MODERN WARFARE
By MAJ GEN (Retd.) AFSIR KARIM, AVSM | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 10/26/2016 12:00:00 AM

Future wars are going to be short and demand swift movements and high mobility of ground forces to win; in this scenario helicopters assume a very crucial role as force multipliers. The helicopter fleets will be the most important asset of a field commander in any future war. There is little doubt that in swift moving operations helicopters will be the main battle winning factor and force multipliers with their ability to move men and material at the hotspots in shortest possible time whether in military operations, counter-insurgency or disaster control operations.

As most future wars will be conducted at night the induction of helicopters suitable for night operations will be necessary. Military helicopter is an armed tactical platform that must be used more aggressively now in support of land forces, for the future battles massive employment of field helicopter will be historically as significant as the advent of battle tank in the past that changed the entire concept of land wars.

VARIED ROLES OF HELICOPTERS

Modern helicopters have modular systems which allow the same airframe to be converted for different roles. Most military helicopters have armor plating to some extent however; the most heavily armored helicopters are attack, assault and Special Forces helicopters. Helicopters are useful in war and peace time operations, suited armed for operating in mountainous terrain, deserts and jungles. The most common use of military helicopters so far has been for transportation of troops, but now transport helicopters are being modified and converted for other missions as well, such as  search and rescue , medical evacuation , and as airborne command posts.

Armed helicopters are now being used for attacking ground targets in all kind of operations. Specialized military helicopters are being employed to conduct special missions and can be adapted as attack helicopters, observation Post helicopters and for anti-submarine warfare . Specialized avionics, such as electronic countermeasures and identification friend or foe systems, are military specific systems that have been installed on many helicopters.  Chinese are carrying out a rapid enlargement of its assault helicopter regiments with the civilian version of the Mil Mi-17 these helicopters without armor and electronic counter measures have varied roles though cannot be deployed in the assault role in actual operations but act as force multipliers

 ATTACK HELICOPTERS

Armed helicopters are primarily used in the anti-tank and close air support roles. They play a major role in anti-tank perations as they suit all types of flight environment and can carry Anti-tank missiles of several kinds. For example the SS.12/AS.12 have been developed and mounted on French military helicopters,  the United States adapted its BGM-71 TOW for firing from  the AGM-114 Hellfire,  the Soviet Union adapted the 3M11 Falanga missile for firing from the Mil Mi-24 helicopters. In attack mode, helicopters armed with anti-tank missiles, function along with one unarmed, or lightly armed scout helicopter in concert. The scout helicopter, flying at a low level locates the enemy armored columns and then maps out approaches and ambush positions for the attack helicopters. Some scout helicopters include laser designators to guide missiles fired from the attack helicopters to the target. After fixing a target, the attack helicopter emerges from its cover position to fire its missiles and return to a concealed position again. New model attack helicopters, such as the Mil Mi-28N, the Kamov Ka-52, and the AH-64D Longbow, incorporate sensors and command and control systems and therefore, can operate on their own without the help of a scout helicopter. To enhance the combat endurance of the missile-armed helicopters, transport helicopters are used to carry technicians, ammunition and fuel to forward helipads.

TRANSPORT HELICOPTERS

Transport helicopters are used by for the primary purpose of transporting personnel (troops) and cargo in support of operations. Transport helicopters that are also referred to as utility or cargo helicopters are often custom-built for military operations or modified for that purpose. The helicopters during operations carry personnel and cargo to and fro to locations which have no runway or landing grounds. Cargo is carried either within a cargo compartment or slung externally suspended from an attachment point underneath the aircraft. Personnel are primarily loaded and unloaded while the helicopter is on the ground, however, when the terrain or operational conditions restrict helicopters landing, personnel are picked up or dropped off using specialized devices, such as rescue hoists or special rope lines, while the aircraft hovers overhead.

Air assault missions rely on the use of transport helicopters for sequential transportation to landing zones (LZ). These helicopters transport and land large number of troops and equipment in a relatively short time to reach and overwhelm a target or objective. The advantage of using helicopters is their ability to continually resupply the force during an operation, as well as to take personnel and equipment away from the target zone to a new location if the mission dictates.

OBSERVATION HELICOPTERS

Helicopters and their ability of close observation of the ground make them ideal for visual or electronic reconnaissance. Initially observation helicopter pilots depended on visual observation and most helicopters cockpits were made for maximum visibility, now they carry low light level television and forward looking infrared cameras. Some are mounted with multi-function lasers capable of acting as laser rangefinder and targeting designators for weapons systems that the attack helicopters carry, however, the observation helicopter's primary equipment is its sensors and communications systems. Earlier observation helicopters were used mainly for calling for artillery support and observed airstrikes but with the modern sensors, they can provide guidance to laser-guided bombs and missiles and other munitions fired by armed aircraft.  Modern Observation helicopters can also be armed with combinations of gun and rockets, even anti-tank guided missiles or air-to-air missiles, however, primarily, these weapons are only meant for eliminating enemy’s reconnaissance assets.

EMPLOYMENT IN COUNTER-INSURGENCY (COIN) OPERATIONS

For counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, the security forces generally operate from semi- permanent or temporary  bases from where they use helicopters to mount patrols and supplies. The operation of forces may not be linked up by a fixed network of roads and helicopters are the only means of carrying men and material quickly without insurgents and local sympathizers observing or reporting the movements, on the other hand helicopters provide facilities to covertly gather intelligence about the camps and routes used by the insurgents. With this intelligence the security forces can time their operations and avoid ambushes. Helicopters provide means of surprise and tactical flexibility to the COIN commanders. By using helicopters Security forces need not start and land in the same place and avoid ambushes. The supply convoys are not needed to use roads which are generally mined by the insurgents ready to be detonated by remote control. We have so far made a very limited use of helicopters in our operations against the Maoists, moreover, their operations are poorly coordinated, landing areas were not protected as proved by one of our helicopters being hit by the Maoists while landing.

OUR REQUIREMENTS

After the recent visit of president Putin of Russia it was decide to launch a joint venture, in that KA226t multirole helicopters will be assembled in India and under the deal Russia will supply 71 milmi-17 helicopters to India. Two squadrons of m-25 and m-35 attack helicopters which were actually purchased from the army funds are with the air force though for operational requirements of the army, this arrangement must cease and the attack helicopter fleet must form part of army aviation. Now that a decision has been taken to provide a well organized aviation arm to the army for overall operational roles, several varieties of new generation helicopters that should be provided to our army are:

• Tactical  battle support helicopters
• Light utility helicopters
• Attack helicopters
• Helicopters for Special operations
• Electronic Warfare flights

Existing fleet of chetak/cheetah helicopters meant for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition have outlived their utility and must be replaced by a variety of new generation helicopters, HAL’S Light Utility Helicopter is being designed to replace Cheetahs and Chetaks, its Light Combat helicopter now in advanced stage of development will have the capacity to fly and use its weapons at high altitudes, however these systems have yet to prove themselves and we urgently require requisite numbers of  new generation helicopters for the following tasks:

•       Fire support
•       Communication
•       Electronic warfare
•       Airborne operations;
•       Casualty evacuation
•       Troop movement and reinforcements
•       Swift redeployments of strategic and tactical assets
•       Ammunition and fuel resupply

In conclusion it must be said that exploiting the vertical dimension through modern helicopters is absolutely essential in our operational environments, more so in mobile fast moving nuclear environments and as an instrument of quick delivery of men, material and fire power at the right spots at the right time, both in war and counter-insurgency operations. Most armies today have medium-lift helicopters for carriage of weapons and equipment and quick get away from hot spots. Multiple task and lift capabilities in the battle field make helicopters excellent force multipliers, we can no longer lag behind our potential adversaries in this respect given our dangerous operational environments.

MAJ GEN (Retd.) AFSIR KARIM, AVSM

 

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ROLE OF HELICOPTERS IN MODERN WARFARE

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